Study shows deep disparities in funding for schools
A new study starkly shows deep disparities in the way school districts across the country are funded, a reality that raises big questions about how effective “reforms” can be if they don’t deal with the issue of equity.
The analysis rates the 50 states on funding level, funding distribution, state fiscal effort, and public school coverage. It concludes that only six states are positioned relatively well on all four measures to provide equality of educational opportunity for all children regardless of background, family income, where they live or where they go to school.
The statistical analysis, titled "Is School Funding Fair? A National Report Card," was done by David G. Sciarra, executive director of the Education Law Center in New Jersey, Bruce Baker of Rutgers University Graduate School of Education, Danielle Farrie, research director of the law center.
Funding alone, of course, cannot guarantee that students will do better in school, but the lack of equal funding makes a mockery of efforts to provide a strong education to all kids.
“Sufficient school funding, fairly distributed to districts to address concentrated poverty, is an essential precondition for the delivery of a high-quality education in the 50 states,” the report says.
The four measures that were considered in this analysis are separate but interrelated, and must be seen as a whole; the relative success in one or two areas may be misleading. A state with an insufficient funding level is not fairly serving its students, even if the funding is distributed with some progressivity, and a high state effort grade is of little consolation if it still fails to generate a sufficient funding level.
The report discusses the two main elements that strongly influence education cost and funding: decentralization and concentrated student poverty. (It has become axiomatic for many of today’s school “reformers” to dismiss the effects of poverty on student achievement, calling it an excuse, but that stand is, frankly, an excuse for the failure to address the complex issues involving home life and its effect on learning.)
Here are some of the findings of the report (and you can read the entire thing, with state by state rankings, here):
• Six states are positioned relatively well on all four measures: Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Vermont, and Wyoming.
• Most states have at least one area in which to improve, and many do poorly on the most important indicators from a state policy perspective: State Effort and Funding Distribution.
• Four states receive below-average ratings on each of the four indicators: Illinois, Louisiana, Missouri, and North Carolina.
• The national average funding level, adjusted to account for student poverty, regional wage variation, economies of scale, and population density, is $10,123 per pupil.
• Higher funded states predominate in the Northeast (New Jersey, Vermont, New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts), though Wyoming, District of Columbia, Alaska and Hawaii also have funding levels that exceed the national average by at least 40%.
• The lowest funded states predominate in the South and West – Tennessee, Oklahoma, Idaho, Utah, Mississippi, Arizona and Arkansas have the lowest adjusted state and local revenues per pupil.
• The disparity between the highest and lowest funded states is vast – using our nationally adjusted figures, a student in Tennessee receives about 40% of the funding of a comparable student in Wyoming.
• A number of states rank as progressive, including Utah, New Jersey, Minnesota, and Ohio. For example, in Utah a district with 30% students in poverty can be expected to receive over 50% more funding per pupil than a district with no student poverty.
• Some states have a regressive funding system, meaning districts with higher poverty rates actually receive less funding than more well-off districts. These include New Hampshire, Illinois, New York, and Pennsylvania. In New Hampshire, a district with a 30% poverty rate receives about two-thirds the amount of funding per pupil than a district with no student poverty.
• Delaware, South Dakota, Louisiana and Tennessee allocate the lowest percentage of their economic activity to education (.024 to .028).
• Maine, New Jersey and Vermont allocate the greatest share to education (.048 to .063).
• The resources available to schools are a function of both state effort and state wealth. A state may exert above average effort, but if it has low wealth, it may still have low funding levels (e.g., Mississippi). A state with high wealth may need to exert little effort to generate relatively high funding levels (e.g., Delaware).
• On average, about 87% of students attend public school, and the household income of private school students is two-thirds higher than the household income of public school students.
• In Louisiana, Delaware, and the District of Columbia about 1 in 5 students does not attend public schools, and those students come from significantly higher income households. Private school families have incomes that are three and a half times those of public school families in Washington, D.C.
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| October 12, 2010; 1:21 PM ET
Categories: Equity, Research | Tags: cost per student, equity, funding report card, how to fund schools, is school funding fair?, report card, research, school funding, school resources
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